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    The slot on my Home Page rotation which I have reserved for these Dover "Doomsday Classics" has rolled around again, so here is my fourth choice. I will continue until I have read and reviewed all thirteen, or "Doomsday" arrives in real life. Both possibilities are equally plausible. This was by far my favorite of the four I've read so far, although I also really liked Japan Sinks. You may find them all on my Futuristic, Apocalyptic, Time Travel Index Page.
     Wikipedia has nothing on this book, or any other books by Margaret St. Clair, but they do have a page on her. I browsed around and was disappointed that such an extraordinary work got such ho-hum ratings. But after reading several reviews, I realized most people did not "get it." Of course, it is science-fiction, and if you do not look beyond that, you definitely will not understand it. Along with its sci-fi and apocalyptic theme, this work is intensely spiritual. I got it, and in fact, absolutely could relate to nearly everything. Anyone who is on the path definitely should read this book! I wasn't too far along when I realized that much of what happens to the main character, Sam Sewell, has and is now happening to me, with great intensity. It is that feeling of being led to very strange places and being required to do very strange things, and yet, having a gut certainty that it is to be trusted now. That has taken a long time for me, since the evil force on this planet has been able to hack into our minds and steer us in the wrong direction. In fact, that also is a problem to the characters in the story. But eventually you are able to get above and past it all, and learn to discern what is true and what is fake. For me, my "special phrase" was the breakthrough. If you are interested in all this, please refer to my Articles link above.
    Margaret St. Clair and her husband Eric were practicing Wiccans. For anyone unfamiliar with that "religion" it is Pagan, and often referred to as "witchcraft." Wikipedia, surprisingly, has a very nice page on this subject. Do not confuse Wicca with any type of satanic worship. It is completely opposite—operating by the highest moral standards, ("first, do no harm") and is an earth-based religion, as most of the ancient Pagan religions were. I consider myself "Pagan," and although I do not adhere to any "religion" or religious practice, I do have at least one book on Wicca that I recently pulled out and perhaps should read. I am not a "ritual" or "hierarchy" oriented person, which is why I do not connect with any organized religion. In any case, I managed to find one review that is really quite good on Fantasy Literature. The reviewer states, "OK, I'm not going to lie to you: Sign of the Labrys really is a strange little book. It is, commendably, the sort of book in which there is just no way to predict what will happen from one page to the next, and each level that Sewell descends into is like a new and more surreal dreamland." And I totally agree, so even though I took pages and pages of notes, I will limit myself in this review as I do with mysteries, so as not to give away too many of the surprises.
    There was also this odd feeling of understanding the deeper meaning of this book without being able to verbalize it, because of similarities with what I do, as a shaman, and what the characters did, as practitioners of Wicca, or "the craft." It suddenly struck me that that was the reason I am certain most of the regular readers of my articles probably do not grasp much of what I write about, except at the surface level. When one works with the non-physical world, it is like learning a whole new language that rarely translates well into plain English. In addition, this Dover edition includes a helpful Introduction by Brian Stableford, which includes background information on St. Clair, the evolution of science fiction, and a very interesting little tidbit about A.E. Van Vogt. He writes:

   Van Vogt was famous for the "intensive recomplication" of his plots and the frequent depiction of characters in the process of problematic and usually unwitting metamorphosis into superhumans. He also publicized his theory of genre writing, which involved careful adjustment of the narrative pace to the pulp medium and the frequent use of "fictional sentences" specific to a genre. He thought that love stories, for instance, ought to contain as many sentences as possible with reference to emotion, whereas science fiction stories ought to contain as many sentence as possible that left something deliberately unspecified or understated, hence creating a general ambiance of enigmatic uncertainty.

   Van Vogt's theory was widely mocked by people who could not understand it—although that did not stop some of them from attempting to use it—but Margaret St. Clair did understand it, and she put it into practice with a delicacy that van Vogt, who had a fondness for more garish melodrama, did not employ.

    He then goes on to say more about how she used it to create the ambience for this story, and notes that it makes the novel "highly distinctive and a fascinating delight to read." I absolutely agree, and I do not really understand van Vogt's theory either, but I do, for some reason, totally understand how St. Clair used it. This book has a rare seamless flow which moves at a fast pace. Often a new chapter will begin with something ambiguous happening that does not seem to connect it with what previously happened. One might think that would be exasperating, but I personally felt immersed in this reality she had created, and did not require any sense of action/consequence. It was all a surreal, dreamlike fantasy that, if left alone by the reader's mind, rather than slowing the pace to attempt to figure out the details, the result is this sensual stimulation that becoames enjoyable on its own without the need to analyze it. And by adding Wiccan magic to not only a science fiction story, but a dystopian/apocalyptic one as well, St. Clair produced something delightfully unique, not only the story, but the manner in which it was told.
    Therefore, as said above, I will not give too much away. St. Clair inserts little tidbits of information, here and there as the story progresses, so that by the time you reach the end, you pretty well have connected most of the important dots, and what is even better is that it doesn't matter how much she has left out, because the reader's creative mind fills in the blanks, which is typical of a great work of art.
    So here is a bit about the story, and I hope you will then read the whole book. It begins:

   There is a fungus that grows on the wall that they eat. It is a violet color, dark reddish violet, and tastes fresh and sweet. People go into the clefts to pick it.

    This book was written in 1963, and the time frame is ten years later, perhaps in Massachusetts near Salem, which is what I gathered from other sources. Nine-tenths of the world's population have been killed off by a yeast which caused the pandemic, with two variations of the disease, one which causes immediate death and both still rage on. People in the city went to live in the immense caverns that were excavated out of the rock—many levels deep—however, only the elite got down to level G, and level H is even more mysterious. Sam Sewell lives on level E, corridors divided into sections with little rooms containing a bed, sink, a little stove, and not much else. No one has any money needs because there are mountains of food and supplies stockpiled. Sam's "job" is to move boxes in a warehouse. He moves the same boxes every day to a different part of the building and the next shift moves them back. People barely speak to each other because this plague has left them unable to tolerate anyone near them. Hmm, there's a lot here that sounds familiar, heh? It has been ten years since the yeast plague began.
    On this day when Sam arrives to his room, there is an FBY agent there. We never know what those letters stand for, but the reviewer above thought it was Federal Bureau of Yeast, which was my guess, too. They wear plum-colored uniforms. This particular agent is looking for a woman named Despoina, and is convinced that Sam is living with her. Sam has no idea what Ames is talking about. The FBY form what is a rather loose government, but they are not liked or trusted by the people. Anyways, she is suspected of being a "sower." Sam explains:

   Sowers are people who, crazed by the destruction we've all lived through, deliberately disseminate neurolytic strains of yeast. They are blind mass murderers. Or so it is said. Myself, I've never seen one.

    Disinformation? One day Sam is lucky enough to be offered a bulldozer job. The bulldozers are kept busy every day burying the dead, which are in plastic bags. At least it is something more interesting to do. But other problems arise that eventually force Sam out of his relatively stagnant life. And it begins when he arrives home and finds that the water no longer works for his little division. So he packs up his few belongings and begins to look for a new room on a different level which apparently was the solution, rather than reporting the problem to anyone. He mentally notes that the deeper one goes, the more luxurious the accommodations, but they "always repelled" him. Hmm. So he goes only half a tier deeper to F1. When he arrives, there is a red blinking light indicating a problem with that tier as well. As he continues a bit lower, he sees a man who drops dead, which, when he cautiously examines him, he believes was from the pulmonary form of the yeast infection, which takes two hours to kill. The neurolytic form kills instantly. The man was also wearing the FBY uniform. Sam runs in fear back to E3 and spends two hours on his bed observing his breathing for symptoms. When he realizes he is not dying, he leaves his room again towards level D. He is hungry, and craves the purple fungus. He knows a secret place in the caves where it grows in abundance.
    Some background is then given as to why people eat the fungus. It is because it is one of the only types of fresh food available. When the yeast cells escaped, they affected plants, too, and most domestic animals died. Sam recalls what happened:

   Some food plants became extinct—wheat, for example, and barley and rice. Woody plants of all sorts died. I haven't seen a tree for nearly ten years. And the germ cells of the common vegetables, like lettuce and tomatoes, mutated to become polyploid. Nowadays a lettuce plant is ten feet tall, covered with a sort of bark, and about as edible as a floor mop.

    Anyways when he reaches his destination, he sees on the wall something that was not there before. It is a drawing of a labrys—a very early double-headed ax from ancient Crete. He returns to his new room to find a note on his suitcase, telling him to come to the lower gallery at eleven. It is signed "D." The mysterious Despoina, or a set-up by that FBY agent? But then he wonders how Ames found him in his new room. He decides to go, but when he arrives, no one is there.
    When he returns from work the next day, Ames is in his room, and has read the note. Sam tells him no one was there for the rendezvous, but he thought he heard a voice say, "Blessed be." Ames get excited and begs Sam to take him to Despoina, but of course he is still clueless. Then Ames tells him she is a witch that can cure disease, and he says he has a new form of it, and will be dead in a couple weeks. Meanwhile, he begins to tremble. But Ames tells Sam something even more astonishing. He knows that Sam is of the same type—he is a witch, too. The next day, Sam returns to his room to find a mysterious ring—a woman naked to the waist, that looks Cretan. (There are lots of past-life memories that effect Sam.) Of course, Ames shows up again, and when he sees the ring, he knows Despoina wants him to go to her, and the ring will get him past the guards. Then Ames suddenly dies. Sam now takes off to the lower levels, where nothing is normal or "real."
    This begins his new life of discovery—about himself and deeper truths about what is really happening. For one thing, he learns he is immune to the yeast infections. However he is a vector, meaning he can spread it to others. But many of the people he will be meeting in the future are "different." They are all practitioners of the craft—Wicca—and also do not feel the same revulsion towards other humans that the rest of the population feels.
    But first he must reach level F. That is where all the scientists were placed so they could continue to practice their profession. Something very profound is changing within him. He has trouble making decisions, and even worse, he finds he has feelings again. He meets a girl named Kyra, who already knows about him. She prepares him to go to the next level down—G. From here on, it is not just a matter of walking along the caves. In these lower levels are housed the more "important" people. Kyra gives him a drug, then shoves him into an autoclave. He awakens to the sound of birds singing and finds himself lying on grass below trees.
    Here is where the useless elites live. In this level, no money was spared to create a very similar reality to the one above ground. They have a beach and a fake ocean, and shopping center. A girl wearing very skimpy clothing becomes friendly to him and shows him around. She gives him a "euph" pill and wants sex. Needless to say, she is really ditzy. It is here that he knows for certain that he carries the yeast infection, because she drops dead. He suddenly is amazed that he is "double-sighted." He can see inside the dead Cindy Ann's skull and body. Is it a hallucination? He tests it by looking at a tree and seeing a nest with baby birds inside. He climbs to the crotch of the tree, and sure enough, they are really there. He walks along looking at all the nice houses, but knows that sooner or later he will hit a stone wall, and he does. There is a rather dilapidated house nearby, and he knocks at the door. Finally a middle-aged woman comes to the door. He does not know what to say, so he shows her the ring.

   She shot me a startled glance. "I don't know anything about it," she said vehemently. "I don't know anything about it at all, no more than if I was a dog!" She slammed the door in my face.

    He goes to find a place to rest, and falls into a deep sleep. Another thing I must mention is that he's lost his sense of time. But he awakens when something rubs his cheek. It is a dog, of course, who urges him to play fetch with a stick, then indicates he is supposed to throw the stick into the "ocean." There he watches how it is pulled—to the right, then away and gone. He knows that is the way off this level. The dog, whose name is Dekker swims with him part of the way until he feels himself being pulled down, down.
    And that is where I will leave off, and it was here that I was struck with the familiarity of what is going on in my life—strange signs to follow that lead me to the next level, each one becoming less and less like the reality I once knew. I could make a long list of everything in this story that could literally be happening now. The plandemic, the FBY (and lots of other things we find out later), and the magic—the shifting into a world that no longer operates as the old one did. Absolutely fascinating book, especially for those who are on the path out. If you are, then you understand what I mean. Very highly recommended reading.
    Below: Two images of a labrys from Wikipedia.
An ornamented golden Minoan double axe, often spuriously called a labrys.
Labrys jewelry of modern pagan and feminist movements.

Labrys jewelry of modern pagan and feminist movements.

An ornamented golden Minoan double axe.

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